Open Letter from the Mayor to the Province on Policing in Surrey
To the Hon. Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Deputy Premier and Premier David Eby.
Dear Premier and Minister,
Due to recent and inflammatory press comments regarding public safety in Surrey, I felt it essential to write to both of you. I will also be releasing this letter to the public as it is vital to clarify the factual realities of policing in Surrey.
I will also call upon both of you to support the decision of Surrey Council to remain with the RCMP and ensure a cooperative relationship between this City and the Ministry. There is no public safety crisis in Surrey, and the path the City has chosen is the safest and most effective option for both Surrey and the Province.
Further to my commitment to both of you, on Thursday, June 15, 2023, I convened a meeting of the Surrey Council to again consider the issue of policing in our municipality in the wake of the Ministry report. During deliberations, Council discussed your Public Safety (Ministry) report, its recommendation, and the unilateral 'binding conditions' for whichever policing option we chose. And the Ministry report made it clear it was a choice and Council's to make. Council also reviewed a corporate report prepared by City staff. At the conclusion of the meeting, Council voted, once again, to retain the RCMP as its police force of jurisdiction.
This Surrey Council decision was the second and final time we considered this issue, and we have chosen what is clearly the best option for this City and, in our opinion, the most effective choice for the Province. This option makes the most efficient use of finite Police resources, funding and infrastructure, all of which would be significantly and negatively impacted by the option of continuing with the transition to the SPS.
I wish to be very clear that I would much rather have held the meeting in an open session; however, our ability to do so was precluded by the need to sign non-disclosure agreements to review the full version of your Ministry's report. In like fashion, we have had to maintain confidentiality over our staff report because it builds on the provincial report. At the Minister's request, I am prepared to release our corporate report to him and to persons he designates, provided they also sign non-disclosure agreements.
It is incredibly disappointing to receive no response from either of you to my communications last week. I reached out to you both by voice and digitally after Thursday’s meeting and not once did either of you have the courtesy to pick up the phone or respond. Is it because the decision did not go the way that you clearly prefer?
It seems to me you are more interested in dealing with this very important issue in the media and through headlines, rather than working with or communicating with Surrey Council. Surrey Council and I also remain committed to providing accurate information to the citizens of Surrey and British Columbia; we have respected the review process, which is now complete, and we will ensure critical facts can enter the public discussion. As you are aware, though media reports have inadvertently confused the subject, our corporate report does not constitute an updated transition plan. However, much of its information will be included in such a plan.
The report was prepared to meet the Minister's wish that Surrey Council consider the provincial report and the full information available before coming to a final decision on policing. In order to meet the Minister's wish, more information was needed to supplement the Ministry report.
This leads me to another issue I know you are aware of but still needs to enter the public discussion to provide important context to our concern with continuing down the uncertain path of the SPS transition.
The public-facing provincial report specifies it was "not intended to provide a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of continuing with the current police transition to the SPS." While I have concerns over why the Ministry would choose not to assess the SPS option with the same detailed approach as the RCMP plan, that was a Ministry decision for you to explain.
I have more serious concerns over why the Ministry would recommend a course of action it has not comprehensively assessed to the potentially significant and long-lasting consequences for the City of Surrey and the Province. Nevertheless, Surrey Council is confident we have made an informed and correct decision. It is only appropriate and prudent to explore the potential impacts of choosing the SPS before making such an important decision. Information relevant to costs, resourcing and other factors in the corporate report helped us do so where the Ministry report was silent on those impacts.
Details and facts from the corporate report will also be shared with the public to highlight the true costs of the SPS transition not only in terms of finances, resources and infrastructure but also in the absence of planning and the protracted state of transition that option presents. The SPS remains 600 hard vacancies short of their minimum required numbers, and their best hope remains to draw from police agencies here in the Lower Mainland, which could significantly reduce policing levels across multiple local municipalities.
After Council's vote and my press conference, I was informed of the Premier's statement, which included his concern that the "risk and the threat of the collapse of the Surrey Police Service resulting in a policing crisis in the City of Surrey is a real one. This is a very delicate situation." These are theatrical and unfortunate comments, given the reality of the situation. It is very clear that Surrey is not facing a public safety crisis, and there is absolutely no reason why one should occur.
I must also point out the reality that a collapse of the Surrey Police Service could only unfold if the SPS officers abandon their professionalism and the Province neglected their public safety responsibilities by failing to give clear direction to the Police Board.
The Surrey RCMP Detachment is fully staffed and provides more than "adequate and effective" policing. Surrey Police Service (SPS) officers, co-located with the RCMP, are honourable individuals. I have every reason to believe that they will continue to work to ensure public safety in our municipality.
The first phase of the transition to the SPS required the RCMP to halt its standard staffing efforts and integrate SPS officers into front-line policing roles. We must now reverse that process. The RCMP advises me that many members of SPS have already indicated a willingness to join the RCMP, and the RCMP has made a commitment to them.
I was gratified to hear that the Executive Director of the Surrey Police Board (Board) has publicly stated that SPS officers will remain on the job, adding that the Board takes its guidance from the Province and that she and the Board await further instructions from the Province.
This is the exact point where the Ministry can and must take a leadership role to mitigate the overly dramatic concern repeatedly referenced in the media that the SPS will vanish. The SPS takes its direction from the Province and will faithfully fulfil its obligations accordingly.
If the Province were to provide the Board with clear guidance, thereby ensuring that the Board and SPS cooperate with the City of Surrey and the RCMP, the re-staffing of the Surrey RCMP would be assured. This will alleviate the Premier's concern and remove any obstacle to an orderly transition back to the RCMP without destabilizing policing in our municipality or elsewhere in the Province.
The only mechanism by which the SPS would fail to cooperate and thereby generate public safety concerns is if their Board received contradictory direction from the Province; I am confident your government would not consider such a proposal given the potential negative impact on Surrey policing resource levels.
This cooperative effort between the SPS and RCMP is a clear and efficient path to the RCMP policing Surrey without any risk to adequate and effective policing or public safety. In fact, it is the exact same principle advocated for in the Ministry report, which recommended that the two police agencies cooperate for the transition to the SPS. However, one clear advantage to the Surrey Council decision is that the RCMP only requires about 170 members rather than the 400 plus needed by the SPS. More to follow on this topic of City and province benefits to our decision.
I also wish to address the binding conditions imposed on our City by the Minister. We are quite prepared to meet all the conditions within the City's jurisdiction. Although the Minister indicated that the conditions are non-negotiable, as I have pointed out to both the Premier and the Minister, we must work cooperatively with respect to those aspects of the conditions outside our jurisdiction.
For example, we cannot prepare "Individualized HR plans" for SPS members unless the Province directs the Board to assist us with access to the SPS members. A failure to work with us on the conditions will create unnecessary turmoil, which nobody wants. I trust the Province to provide early direction to the Board, consistent with clear support for public safety.
We urge the Province to work with the City to ensure a smooth and safe dissolution of the SPS and allow for the implementation of what is the clear choice of the people of Surrey, as represented by their Council. It would undoubtedly signal an end to the uncertainty which has been ongoing for far too long in this municipality and ensure the continued safety of our beautiful and growing City.
I am mindful of provincial policing pressures and, having made a fulsome review of the implications of the continued transition to the SPS, firmly believe this decision to retain the RCMP is the best decision for policing in the Province. I will be happy to provide details of the risks presented by the SPS transition to the Province and our citizens who have yet to be educated on them or have not been given the opportunity to assess them properly.
I will close by confirming the Surrey Council's opinion that we have exercised our legal authority to select the RCMP to serve as our police force. As per the terms of your Ministry report, the Province, City and police agencies will work together to implement the decision effectively. Both the report and the Minister were clear that we could choose either option and would have to meet the associated criteria. And we will. While the continuing resolution of issues, HR planning, revision of planning, reporting on costs and appointing senior police leaders will be a constant undertaking, the decision is made.
As your government, the SPS Board, the SPS, the RCMP and the City work together on this decision; I am confident we will succeed. It is a relief knowing the only "risk" to public safety in Surrey, the "collapse" of the SPS, can be entirely mitigated by your government as outlined above. Neglecting to take the necessary action with the police board would call into question your expressed goal of ensuring adequate and effective policing.
There is work to be done now that we have confirmed our choice. To that end, I have identified a transition working group to represent the City and look forward to representation from the Province joining the team.
In closing, I am ready and willing to work with you on this crucial issue, as are Surrey Council and staff.
Yours very truly,
Mayor, City of Surrey